DESPITE a lack of activity, owners operating large tonnage from the Middle East Gulf saw some improvement in rates last week, the cumulative effect of a recent high volume of fixing and a marked increase in utilisation of large tonnage from other areas. The latest rate paid for a 260,000 to 300,000 tonner discharging in Europe was Worldscale (WS) 45, with a discount of 2.5 points for the option of US Gulf still obtainable. The level for the short-haul trade is between WS 45 and WS 50, depending on size and destination. One charterer conceded WS 55 to move a cargo to Japan of 250,000 tonnes. Aframax tonnage has again found it difficult with only sporadic opportunities. A cargo of 75,000 tonnes was closed to Singapore at WS 85 and a 94,000 tonner obtained WS 80 to New Zealand. The only fixture reported of a million-barrel vessel was at WS 65 for discharge in China. In West Africa there was a slight increase in the amount of fixtures concluded, however the supply of tonnage heavily outweighed demand and rates struggled to maintain already disappointing levels. A 130,000 tonner accepted WS 65 for a voyage to the Mediterranean while modern tonnage could achieve only WS 67.5 to WS 70 to the US Gulf. Sustained activity in the Caribbean allowed owners to continue to enjoy relatively high rates and the level remained above WS 140 for 70,000-tonne cargoes from Venezuela for the US Atlantic coast. A livelier market towards the end of the week for 80,000 tonners in the North Sea placed some pressure on charterers and resulted in rates improving to around WS 107.5 to WS 110 for cross-UK-Continent voyages. WS 97.5 was paid for the same size discharging in the US Gulf while 88,000 tonnes going to Canada was fixed at WS 116. In the product market, the week improved as it went along, allowing most owners with prompt tonnage to secure employment. Again, the East proved more active than the West, where most markets have suffered from a noticeable lack of enquiry. Owners of Medium Range vessels trading in the Middle East had an active week with charterers fixing most of the tonnage available for loading within the next 10 days. With activity remaining high, charterers are looking to fix on forward positions to cover gas-oil and kerosene supplies into India before rates start to rise. The level now stands about WS 220 for 30,000-tonne cargoes from the Middle East Gulf to India, but rates are expected to start climbing next week. Large Range owners had a mixed week with smaller vessels taking advantage of distillate cargoes which were being fixed at WS 172.5 for 55,000 tonnes from the Middle East Gulf to South Korea. Report supplied by London ship broker E.A. Gibson.